When FU-CHING-GIDO began, we were finding ways to make the two of us sound like a full band. Fu-ching has an astonishing ability to play the key harmonica with her left hand, while playing complex drum rhythms with the rest of her limbs. I did my best to play as much bass, harmony and melody on the tuba as possible, but I soon wanted to provide more. I started searching for a foot keyboard.
At first I was imagining an octave of organ pedals, like the Roland PK-5, but the prospect of adding another bulky instrument weighing 8kg to my setup was not appealing. Then I discovered the Keith McMillen 12 step, advertised as a "road-proof", lightweight portable midi foot controller, and thought I'd found the answer to all my dreams, right? WRONG!!
Their website features the 12 Step being run over by a van. With hindsight, I should have smelt the snake oil right there and then. It worked well for 2 years, and we achieved a lot with it. And as it was immediately integral to our live performances, I treated it at all times with the utmost care.
Then, just as the warranty ran out, it began failing on me, mid-performance. As a professional musician, that means the instrument instantly becomes useless. What made it so much worse was that McMillen's customer service is absolutely appalling. After initially attempting to deny that it was the hardware at fault, they told me my only option was to buy a new unit. Finally, after seeking a resolution for 3 months, and experiencing some bizarre, rude and unwarranted communications from them, I finally lodged a formal complaint about the lack of customer support. It seems my complaint has been ignored.
The Keith McMillen 12-step is a good idea, very poorly made, overpriced, prone to malfunction, and unrepairable as the casing is completely enclosed.
But, I'm glad to say that this story has a happy ending! Forced, by McMillen's attitude, to seek an alternative, I'm delighted to report that I've found a better solution costing literally 1/10th of the 12 Step's retail price here in Japan.
The Korg Nanopad 2 retails at around ¥3000. It has 16 pads, plus an X/Y pad with customisable parameters. This instrument is much easier to use for what I need and will add new elements to our performances. I couldn't be happier! Although it has more pads and a smaller footprint, the 12 step's pads weren't noticeably bigger, they just had larger gaps between them. It's not backlit, but glow-in-the-dark tape and a small LED lamp fixed that.
At such a cheap price, you might worry about build quality. But it feels really solid. And besides, I could have 10 of these fail on me before it comes anywhere near to what that piece of crap 12 Step cost me.
Sorry Mcmillen instruments, but you totally suck. Goodbye forever!
Right, in my next blog, I'll be telling happier tales! Lots of exciting stuff on the horizon, and also at some point soon, I'll show you around my current effects setup, which all works like a joy!
Here is some video of the Nanopad 2 in action, as has been requested. I'm using it to play samples of a modified mellotron. This is the keyboard part which I play in the FU-CHING-GIDO song, "Chili Klaus"
Bear in mind that I have BIG feet, and I have no issue playing it. I wouldn't attempt "Flight of the Bumblebee", but there are no issues playing the parts I have been writing. In fact, I think this instrument will inspire me to write some more tricky parts in the future.